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[Tent Making Made Easy By H.J.Holden]

[Making a Sexon Geteld]

[Tentmaking tools of the trade]

[Medieval Pavillion resources]

[The Pavillion book] - If you are in any way serious about making a tent, get this...


How good your tent is at resisting water depends quite a lot on the material you use to make it.


From personal experience, I have found the optimum material to use is 12-14oz Canvas.

Much heavier than that gets quite difficult to work with, whereas much less risks not being entirely waterproof.

However, heavier canvas is very good for making ancillaries such as tent bags because of its hard-wearing properties. And of course, Lighter material will pack away to a much smaller volume, making larger tents more practical for smaller cars.

However, the tents i have made were

  • 17oz canvas. (I really dont recommend this, even with my Brother SL-1110-3, manipulating the material was very difficult)
  • Heavy Calico. (Reasonable nice material to work with, and probably even doable with a normal sewing machine if your careful. The only problem with it is that is stretches, and needs seperate waterproofing)
  • 12oz canvas. (You really do need a decent sewing machine, however, its much nicer to work with than 17oz, and doesnt stretch)

In essence however, any material can be used. If your stuck with a newer domestic sewing machine, then you will have to use a lighter material. Canvas will quickly ruin your machine.


If you want your tent to be any colour other than white, make sure you get the material in that colour. Home Dyeing can work, but it is generally expensive for the amount of cloth required.

Also, (And this is something i found out the hard way), Canvas is Water resistant. This means its also Dye resistant as well. If you look at the picture of the Green/blue tent, you can see it is very blotchy. This represents at least 8 attempts at dyeing before I gave up. Calico is much easier to dye however.


I use No.40 Bonded nylon thread. Its thin and extremely tough, and at any time there are loads of people selling it on Ebay in any colour you could want. The only thing you have to remember is that cos its rather thick, when in the sewing machine, you can only get about 7m or so of it on a standard bobbin, so you need to plan your seams accordingly. You will get through a couple of 1000m of this. Each seam requires three seperate passes, and uses two threads per pass (The top side and the underside), which means a 4m seam actually takes 24m of thread.


You will some quite chunky stuff for main ropes. Try to avid sisal rope unless you are using thick stuff. It shrinks as it gets wet, which will can cause your pegs to come out.

My current rope of choice is polyhemp, which is long lasting and doesn't absorb water.

For main rope, 12mm minimum, and prefereby 16mm. Side rope is less critical. 6mm is fine.


  • Toggles, possibly (See later)
  • Eyelets and a punching tool. (Some come with one)
  • Wooden poles for the main poles.
  • Side poles if required.
  • Tent pegs.


General notes

You need quite a large work area. Able to spread pieces of canvas around.

Sewing machine

Unless your going to sew the whole thing together by hand, your going to need a decent sewing machine. The quality of the machine determines in large part what materials you can use.

Personally, I use a Brother SL-1110-3, which is a medium industrial machine. I got this relatively cheap, but it was still quite expensive at about £600 (I didnt pay all of that though ;-) ). this was a few years ago however. I've seen them for £470 in the last few months, although not with all the toys i got with it.

Note the SL-1110-1 is a lighter machine, and may be cheaper. Its specced slightly lower, but will probably still be much better than a domestic machine.

However, the ease of use, especially if your making a large tent makes it much easier. Its worth noting that a large canvas tent can easilly set you down £2,000 new, and even factoring in the material cost, you can still make a decent tent for less than £400 in material, and the machine is a one-off cost. So far i have made three using it :-). Plus of course, Repairing all that leather kit is a doddle, as the thing just goes straight through it.

Old cast iron machines can also take a lot more punishment that modern domestics. Although i haven't used one myself. In general, Sewing machines with Metal gears are a must.

Hiring is another option.


Machine Needles deserve a special mention. Normally with your domestic machine, you usually get a selection of universal needles around the 12/80 or 14/90 size. They are pointed with a slightly rounded tip, the idea being that they move the fibres aside rather then penetrate them.

This is perfectly fine for most things, However for sewing canvas the material is so dense that you need to actually cut through it. For this, you need to use Leatherworking needles which have a sharp point to penetrate solid material.

Needle sizes you should be aiming for are around 21/130. You will still break a few needles though, so make sure you get a few. If your using thinner thread, you may want to try smaller needles, as it leaves smaller holes.

Note, for a decent explination of needle sizes, see This article

One thing to bear in mind. You can use Domestic needles in Industrial machines, but usually not the other way around. Industrial needles lack the flat bit the needle screw locks on to. Industrial needles can also come in different lengths, so its worth checking this as well.

Sewing ancillaries

  • Tailors chalk
  • A cloth measuring tape
  • A 5M or larger steel tape
  • A Good set of scissors.
  • Thread unpicker.


  • Thread: Ebay. (Search for Strong bonded Nylon thread No.40)
  • Canvas: I use [Whaleys] cos their close and you can buy online.
    • [Heavy Calico]
    • [18oz Canvas] (Only recommended for relatively small jobs (tent bags et al). You will quickly become frustrated if you try to use it for a large tent.)
    • [12oz Canvas] If you afford it and your sewing machine is up to it, this is the best material.
  • Eyelets: Ebay: Tarp repair kit (At least 10mm)
  • wooden Toggles: Ebay:
  • Main Poles: I use a place called [Calvag] in Mytholmroyd, cos its on the way to work, but i would imagine most agricultural suppliers will do. Generally, each pole is a few quid each, and you need 4 of them for a large tent. (Two poles split into two.
  • Side poles: Whatever is available. For the last tent, i used 2x9 packs of 180x40x40mm poles i got from Wickes.
  • Steel bar from B&Q to stick in the ends to attack ropes to. (I dont use B&Q in for materials in general much because they are rather expensive, but sometimes you have to get what you can get)
  • Some steel tube from Tubefabs (Search ebay)
  • Ropes: Lots of places do it. Even B&Q if your don't mind paying through the nose for it. Still, its useful if you find yourself a few meters short and don't want to wait for mail order. Try Rope source otherwise..
  • Tent pegs: Most camping suppliers do decent tent pegs. Avoid small metal ones. If all else fails, a piece of angle iron with a sharpened end will do. Alternatively, there are still people making [traditional wooden pegs]

Tent design

There are many designs of tent. The two main ones i have settled on as being the easiest are double pole with rounded ends and double pole with flat ends.

None of my tents have Ridge poles, (Other than the smaller ridge tents) mainly because It makes putting them up and down safely by one person impossible and its more to carry in the car.

The downside of this is that the tent usually sags slightly in the middle. However, i have found that running a rope of the correct size between the tops of the two poles mitigates this somewhat.

Anyway the tents here are all variations on a theme:

2 pole marquee style tent variations:

  • Flat ended tent - Tent with two to four middle sections and flat ends.
  • Rounded tent - Tent with one to four middle sections and rounded ends.
  • Circular tent - Tent that is two rounded ends connected together with no center section (So only one pole)
  • A-frame tent - One of the above with no walls (So appropriately lower).

Ridge tent variations:

  • low wall tent - One of the above with walls that are small (Eg, 50cm max), so it doesn't need side poles to reduce the footprint.
  • Scout Patrol tent - A no side-pole tent with flat ends, about 50cm sides, about 1.5m high, and usually has a ridge (Although you can get away without one)

baker tent

  • angled tent with a porch.

Tents i've made

Tent 1

This is the final iteration of the first tent i made. The roof it made from 17oz Canvas (Dont do this!), and the sides are made from a more reasonable 9oz canvas (But probably should have really been 13oz). Initially, it was going to be an A-Frame tent, but this didnt work very well, as i couldnt make the door waterproof as it was on an angle, as well as it taking an awful lot of floor space and not giving much internal space So i sewed the door up and raised it 1.5m or so.


This is the second tent i made. Its quite servicable, although i wish i had the made the roof out of something a bit thicker. It is made entirely from Heavy Calico cloth, and was dyed in the washing machine.


This is the third tent i have made. It is rather large (Due to a measuring error), and made out of 13oz canvas. It took about two weeks of evenings to do the roof, and a further two weeks of evenings to do the walls. (Second time, as i had to re-do the walls due to them being rather rushed first go, and not surviving a particularly windy Maelstrom)

On the plus side, it rather large, and more than big enough for an entire group. (At Odyssey, we have had over 40 people in there)